Whatever happens at the curtain call of Game of Thrones on Sunday night, the seed of that idea will likely have been planted in front us at some point, making it all seem surprising and yet inevitable.
The clues may be in the original material of George R.R. Martin's series of novels, or in the many ways that HBO and show-runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have decided to diverge from the books and forge their own path.
Years ago Martin revealed "the major points of the ending" to the pair, though added when speaking to Rolling Stone, "there may also be changes, and there’ll be a lot added." While it's unclear what the author considers the major points to be, you would assume that it includes who is left standing at the end and who ultimately rules over Westeros, if anyone.
The possible contenders for the Iron Throne have dwindled following the developments of this week's episode, with one queen crushed and another surely about to be tried for war crimes at The Hague.
Perhaps you didn't see Khaleesi's abrupt lane change to murderer coming three seasons ago, but her falling fanbase and increasing paranoia, not to mention ruffled hair and lack of make-up, have all been laying clues to her unravelling. "She feels empty, it wasn't what she thought it was, it's not enough," explained episode director Miguel Sapochnik on her deep dive to darkness.
So who is likely to replace Khaleesi and run for Westeros 2020? Jon Snow is an obvious contender given that so much has been made of his secret parentage. Now that Daenerys has revealed her 'true colours' he has a moral green-light to bin off his Queen and miserably accept an even grander title, the pattern he's been following for seven seasons. It's a neat way to solve the thorny issue of his claim to power without him looking like a problematic man taking credit for her work, even if it is frustrating for many fans. Sorry guys!
Snow has been touted as the prince who was promised, survived increasingly heroic feats in battles and literally come back to life after dying. Fantasy conventions might suggest that he is the hero to save the day after making an impossible choice, but Martin has always tried to upend these traditions, and the series might want to point to something more progressive.
Enter Arya Stark, whose character progression has been largely approved of by viewers over the years. Training since she was a child to become a killer, she ended up vanquishing the Night King - an act that many thought earned her the throne in itself.
Later in 'The Bells', her decision to walk away from pursuing Cersei and instead try to help people escape Daenerys' path of destruction signalled she was perhaps not a faceless assassin, but a leader. Coupled with the closing scene of her valiantly riding off on a white steed - likely a play on the convention of a white knight coming to save the day - and Arya is perhaps the frontrunner to take home gold.
But isn't that all a little obvious? A more unexpected resolution might lie in distributing power a little more democratically. While the power couple was long seeded as Jon and Dany, her recent penchant for scorching her people alive, plus the fact she's his aunt, have somewhat extinguished the romance. Another potential duo would be Sansa and Tyrion, between whom there was a fleeting romantic moment ahead of the battle at Winterfell, and who may, in fact, still be married.
Their ruling would be a victory for sense and pragmatism as both have showed those qualitiesover the series. It would also be the joining together of two powerful families to seal the peace, as happened between the York and Lancaster families in the aftermath of the Battle of the Roses - the conflict Martin based Game of Thrones on.
That said, Tyrion's decision to betray Daenerys after she explicitly said his next mistake would be his last might mean he'll be for the chopping block early in the final episode. Audiences have noticed that Sansa was demonstrably absent from the final proceedings, does this leave her fighting fit to take down Daenerys? Bran was also MIA in the Dante's Inferno that King's Landing became, but since it turned out he probably wasn't the Night King, the rumour mill surrounding him has gone into administration.
Perhaps the easiest solution, and one that has been the strongest hint throughout the series, is that nobody should occupy the Iron Throne. In both Martin's text and the HBO show we have seen that power corrupts. It turns people against their family, awakens violent urges and makes them paranoid about their enemies. If they believe a breaker of chains and freer of slaves hears bells ringing for peace and still torches a city, what chance is there for anyone?
That the people of Westeros fought off the threat of human annihilation only to carry on savaging each other in the quest for domination is a depressing statement about how power poisons. Aside from an unexpected tsunami rolling in from the Iron Islands, or Dany settling in for 25 years of totalitarian rule, an empty throne might be the only way to deliver a surprise end.
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